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One For, One Also For: Breaking down the Clarkson Cup’s two offences

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What makes the Calgary Inferno and Canadiennes de Montreal so good offensively? Let’s dig in.

Marie-Philip Poulin of the Canadiennes de Montreal faces off against Calgary Inferno's Blayre Turnbull during the 2016-17 season. Celine Gelinas - CWHL

In advance of this Sunday’s Clarkson Cup championship game between the Calgary Inferno and les Canadiennes de Montreal, I took a break from combing through NCAA rosters and drooling over potential 2017 draft picks to break down a couple goals from the two nationally-broadcast Toronto Furies games this year. Since the Furies are apparently too shy to score on live TV, these are great examples to highlight the offensive talent the Inferno and Canadiennes are bringing to Ottawa.

January 22nd, Calgary at Toronto

Here’s a YouTube link, if you’d prefer to watch the whole thing on video.

Hoo boy. Let’s backtrack a little, and start this play with Carlee Campbell (15) dumping the puck into the Calgary zone.

Jenelle Kohanchuk (91) and Brigette Lacquette (4) both go for it. In a nice move by Lacquette, she collects the puck and turns toward the boards with it, blocking Kohanchuk with her body as she has her head up looking for a pass. Keeping Kohanchuk to the outside leaves her unable to strip Lacquette of the puck before she can pull away and find the pass out of the zone.

Lacquette finds Johnston with a cross-ice pass

Lacquette finds what she’s looking for, sending a long pass diagonally across the ice to Rebecca Johnston (6) at the center line. Johnston kicks it out of her feet and heads down the ice.

It’s a race! And the Furies aren’t winning.

Johnston is the blurry figure in the white jersey at the top of the shot. At this point, defender Shannon Moulson (23) is already in position ahead of Johnston, and her partner Campbell is racing back. So are Haley Irwin (21) and Bailey Bram (17). Irwin’s in front, so Campbell picks her up, but Bram is several strides ahead of Kelly Terry (10) and wide open.

Johnston can see that Bram’s got no defender and a whole lot of net

At the point Johnston makes the pass, Moulson’s there to take the shot away, and has her stick out to take away as much of a pass as she can. Campbell’s all over Irwin anyway, who’s heading for the crease. Bram, though, is the trailing forward and still a few strides in front of Terry, who is the closest of the three Furies forwards.

Johnston’s saucer pass is flawless, by the way. She sends it just past the tip of Moulson’s stick and right onto the tape of Bram’s. It’s beautiful.

Terry is just barely too late, and Bram buries it.

Bram doesn’t need to settle the puck, all she has to do is aim. It hits her stick, and she lines up and takes the shot. Goalie Sonja van der Bliek has the time to get over, but not to get her glove up, and the shot beats her clean over her right shoulder.

If Bram had hesitated by a second or two, Terry—who is a good skater—might have been close enough to tie up her stick. As it is, she’s close enough to try but not succeed. It was crucial Bram receive that pass cleanly and get it off quick.

This is a beautiful rush, and while it’s Bram’s goal, all she had to do was not miss. That pass by Johnston was perfection. Lacquette’s play to collect the puck, fend off Kohanchuk and get it to Johnston in the first place was underrated Good Hockey.

Final score: 5-0 Inferno. The Furies got walloped, and this goal was the icing on the cake.

February 4th, Toronto at Montreal:

(Disclaimer—those special pink Canadiennes jerseys, worn for their breast cancer charity game, are nearly impossible to read even on video. You’re just going to have to take my word for who’s who, and if I got someone’s name wrong, my apologies).

YouTube video link, if that’s more your jam.

The play starts with Marie-Philip Poulin (29) gaining possession in the corner in the Furies zone. She strips Kohanchuk (91), and it’s off to the races.

Poulin carries the puck in

On the entry, we’ve got three Furies back before Poulin. Erin Ambrose (13) doesn’t apply pressure in favor of keeping herself positioned to take away Poulin’s shot. Since this is Poulin, and even her moves have moves, this is a smart choice. It works, and she forces Poulin to carry the puck down behind the cage and around.

With Ambrose keeping her to the outside, she skates behind the net

After coming around the right side of the net, Poulin has multiple Furies between her and her teammate Ann-Sophie Bettez (24) in the slot. She passes up to Sophie Brault (23) at the point, who takes the shot through a lot of traffic. Christina Kessler makes the save and directs the rebound into the left corner, and Bettez chases after it.

Bettez’s shot is blocked by Ambrose

Bettez collects the puck, spins, and heads for the slot. She tries to throw it on net, with Caroline Ouellette (13, with the pink stick tape) behind her ready for a rebound, but Ambrose is in good position and goes down to block it. It hits Ambrose’s stick and kicks back behind the net.

(Not entirely sure what #8, Michela Cava, is doing at this point)

The arrow shows where Saunders sent the puck

Defender Michelle Saunders (5) goes to collect it, with Ouellette hot on her heels. Bettez comes in from the other side, and rather than risk a turnover behind the cage, Saunders sends the puck up the boards towards Julie Allen (2).

It’s kept in by Brault, who bodies it down and bypasses Allen—the only Fury remotely close by—to pass back down to Bettez at the goal line. This is the second time this play Brault has kept the puck in.

After Brault controls the puck, she passes down to Bettez

With Brault, who’s a defender, heading down, Poulin moves back into her position at the point, with Lauriane Rougeau (5) on the other side.

Bettez passes back up to Poulin at the point

At this point, we can see all five Furies, and three Canadiennes. You know who’s out of view? Poulin. You really don’t want that, if you’re cheering for the other team. It’s like when you see a spider, and then suddenly don’t see it anymore. You don’t know where it is, but it could be anywhere, and it can still bite you.

Cava and Saunders are converging on the puck, Ambrose is backing up to cover the crease, Allen’s on Brault and Ouellette at the half-boards, Kohanchuk is the high forward/taking away the pass to Rougeau...and arguable best player in the world Marie-Philip Poulin is hanging out somewhere off-screen.

(Also, I still don’t know what Cava’s doing.)

Poulin sends the puck right back to Bettez

There’s Pou! And she has the puck now. She also has a lot of Furies between her and the goal—Kohanchuk and Allen high, and Ambrose on Ouellette, who’s gone to the front of the net. Poulin passes back to Bettez, down low, and heads for the slot.

And Bettez returns the favor. Teamwork!

Immediately, everyone on the ice is looking at Bettez, particularly Cava and Saunders. Worth noting—possibly thanks to the push to get Ouellette a goal to break the all-time CWHL record, Cava and Saunders are both playing Bettez as if they’re expecting a pass in Caro’s direction, or for her to drive to the net. Bettez does the other thing.

Poulin gets off the shot so quick, it looks fast watched at half speed.

She sends the puck right back to Poulin in the high slot, who’s walked right in and now only has Ambrose in her way. Poulin gets the shot off before that can change, Ambrose goes down to block it and does not succeed, and presto, Canadiennes goal.

This is one of the best lines in the CWHL, containing three of the top five scorers in the league, all of whom score at well over a point per game. Poulin is the best player in the CWHL, and possibly the best player in the world. This is a perfect example of sustained zone time combined with patience. Bettez is the unsung hero of this line, and she makes a lot of good decisions here (admittedly, “get the puck to Pou” is not rocket science, but she gets the puck to Pou well). Also worth noting on this play is Erin Ambrose, who makes good choices from start to finish, even when her teammates look like a bit of a mess. She’s going to be fun to watch at World Championships in April.

Final score: 2-0 Canadiennes. The second goal was an empty netter, after a miscommunication between Kessler and the bench.

If you want to see more beautiful saucer passes and lightning-fast shots, tune in on Sunday to watch the Clarkson Cup at 4:00 pm ET, on Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360, and the CWHL website for those of us not in Canada.